Once, we had very few options for virus protection. Your options were Norton or Mcafee and you may have paid as much as $100 for it, plus an annual subscription for updates. Those days are thankfully behind us. Now there are so many options that it may be hard to choose; however, many of them won’t cost you a cent.
Hopefully, this comparative review of 3 of the most popular free antivirus solutions will help you make that choice.
One of the most important factors when determining the quality of an antivirus, is how it performs over time. It does you little good to catch everything one month, just to let everything slip by the next. As such, I took an entire year’s worth of tests from av-comparatives.org, a trusted and independent tester of antivirus products, to provide time tested facts about detection rate, number of false positives, and the impact on your computer’s performance.
Hard numbers used are:
Detection: The percentage of infections detected by the antivirus.
False Alarms: A false alarm, also known as a false positive, is when an antivirus detects a valid, uninfected file as being an infection. This can cause problems including system instability and programs simply ceasing to function.
Performance: AV-Comparatives uses a number of benchmarks to test performance. These include things like how long it takes to move a file, download a file from the internet, or install a program. Scores range from 0, a dead stop, to 190, exactly the same speed without antivirus installed.20 Antivirus products were tested. The lowest score was 123 and the highest 181.
AVG – 6 out of 10
AVG was the first popular free antivirus and has remained one of the best known. The user interface, in my opinion, leaves much to be desired. Consumer antivirus should be clean and simple, leaving no doubt about what it is doing. AVG clutters up its user interface with a lot of “features” that are really interconnected and could be simplified. On the plus side, AVG was one of only two antivirus solutions that loaded early enough in the startup process to prevent malware from loading. ALL of the 18 other programs did not load until after the malware did. Since the easiest way to stop malware is to prevent it from loading in the first place, AVG’s ability to load first is a pretty big deal for them.
Detection: AVG had the lowest detection rate of the 3 antivirus programs tested, with an average of just 79.48%
False Alarms: Of the last three tests for false alarms, AVG had an average of 15. While far fewer than many other Antivirus programs, it’s still a higher number than I’d like.
Performance: AVG’s score of 177 is nothing to sneeze at, but it is also the lowest of the 3.
Summary: While AVG is the only one of the three that loads early enough to prevent malware from starting, that doesn’t do you much good if it doesn’t know what to prevent.
Avast – 8 out of 10
Avast’s user interface is done well. It is feature rich and easy to navigate. The only thing I don’t like about Avast’s interaction with the user are its audio alerts. If you play video games or watch movies on your computer like I do, you keep the volume turned up fairly high. Now imagine that you’re up at 2am working on a school or work project and suddenly “VIRUS DEFFINITIONS HAVE BEEN UPDATED”. This happened to me and I nearly fell out of my chair. Fortunately, this feature can be turned off.
Detection: Avast’s average detection rate is 81%.
False Alarms: Avast’s average false positives over the testing period was 13.
Performance: Avast’s performance score of 179 is very impressive. You can’t get much better while still running any security software.
Summary: Avast is a great antivirus option. They do a great job of protecting you against known threats. The most annoying feature is easy to turn off, and all they ask is that you register.
Microsoft Security Essentials – 9 out of 10
After Microsoft’s failure with One Care, their previous attempt at an antivirus solution, I approached Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) with more than a little skepticism. The first time I installed it, I looked at the simplistic user interface and, when comparing it to every other antivirus out there, thought “there’s no way this is going to get the job done, but at least it will be easy to use.” Much to my surprise, it has become the antivirus I, and many others in my field, have been recommending for the last year.
Detection: Microsoft Security Essentials has the highest detection rate of any of the products reviewed here. The average detection rate is 87.18%
False Alarms: Microsoft Security Essentials is among only a few of the 20 antivirus solutions tested by av-comparatives that is in the “Very Few” category for false alarms an average of only 2 false positives over the testing period. Fewer false alarms mean less risk to your legitimate software.
Performance: Avast and MSE meet in a tie here with a score of 179.
Summary: Microsoft Security Essentials has been and continues to be my recommendation for antivirus. With a simple user interface, a high detection rate, and minimal impact on your computers performance, there isn’t much to complain about.
Pros: Loads earlier allowing more effective virus removal.
Cons: Doesn’t detect as many infections. Slows down your
Pros: Decent detection rate. Doesn’t slow down your computer
Cons: Obnoxious audio alerts.
Microsoft Security Essentials
Pros: Highest detection rate.Doesn’t slow down your computer much. Simple user interface.
Virtually non-existent false positives.
Cons: One of the longest scan times out there.